Asked about his first cookbook, "Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking" (Andrews McMeel, $40, due out Oct. 16), Kevin Gillespie repeated the word "personal" over and over, like a mantra.
The title is a nod to his tendency to express his passion for food in diatribes, Gillespie said.
But the writing reveals the soul of a Southern man who grew up in a tight-knit family in Locust Grove, "caught the chef bug at an early age" and went on to become a "Top Chef" fan favorite and reluctant celebrity chef.
Recently, back at Woodfire Grill, the acclaimed fine dining restaurant that's been his home for the past five years, Gillespie sported the signature bushy red beard and sleeve tattoos and talked about the two years it took to complete the by turns quirky, extremely detailed and, yes, very personal cookbook.
"I didn't write this book for my peers, " Gillespie said. "I wrote it for my mom and my sister and my wife. I wrote it for real people who actually need and want cookbooks."
Rather than the usual progression of appetizers, main dishes and desserts, the recipes, specially developed for home cooks, are divided into topics such as "When I Want to Eat Healthy" and "Some Like It Hot."
"The overall theme of the book became the inspirations I draw from to create a dish, " Gillespie said. "We put those inspirations into chapters."
For instance, "Foods You Thought You Hated" is inspired by things Gillespie didn't like as a kid but learned to like as an adult --- and his experiences with a few picky eaters at Woodfire Grill.
"The deal I made with myself and the guests was that if I make you something, and you still don't like it, I'll make you something else.
"What ended up happening was this tremendously rewarding experience of people saying things along the lines of, 'I've always hated cabbage, but I had it tonight and it was amazing.'"
"My Version of Southern Food" and "World Classics Revisited" are among the other chapters. But Gillespie said "Junk Food, " which includes recipes for the likes of pizza rolls and chili slaw dogs, was the most fun to write.
The most important thing that came out of "Fire in My Belly" was the surprising revelation that he no longer wanted to be part of the pomp and circumstance of the fine dining world, Gillespie said.
To that end, Gillespie announced he'll be leaving Woodfire and opening Gunshow, a new Atlanta restaurant with a casual atmosphere, where he will make anything that strikes his fancy, be it foie gras torchons or cheeseburgers. Gillespie said he hopes to open Gunshow in early 2013.
"I am not fine dining. It's not who I am, " Gillespie said. "I'm rough around the edges. I grew up in a trailer park. I'm kind of a redneck. And I'm OK with that.
"For years, my professional pursuits really haven't matched who I am as a person. I'm happy to say, when I look at this book, it feels like me. It's time that my restaurants matched that, too."
Coca-Cola Braised Pot Roast
Hands on: 40 minutes Total time: 4 hours Serves: 6
From the "World Classics Revisited" chapter.
4 pounds boneless chuck blade roast
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 (250-milliliter) bottles Mexican Coca-Cola, available at ethnic food markets
1 cup veal demi-glace, available at specialty food stores
8 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Espelette pepper, available at specialty food stores
3 carrots, peeled and sliced 1 inch thick
3 celery stalks, sliced 1 inch thick
1 softball-size yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh chives, very finely sliced
Tie a piece of kitchen twine tightly around the circumference of the roast. Tie a few pieces of twine over and around the top of the roast to compact it for even cooking. Pat the roast dry with a paper towel and generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a 4-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Generously cover the bottom of the pot with grapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, add the roast; you should hear it sizzle immediately. Sear the meat on one side for about 4 minutes.
Transfer the meat to a cutting board and return the pot to the heat for 30 seconds; if the pot looks dry, add a little more oil to cover the bottom and, when the oil is hot, return the meat to the pot, browned side up. Baste the roast with the hot oil and juices. Continue this process of removing the meat until all sides are deeply browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the roast to a plate, tent with foil, and set aside. Pour the cola into the pot, crank the heat up to high, and bring to a rapid boil. Add the veal demi-glace, chicken stock, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of black pepper, and the Espelette pepper, and return to a boil. Cut the heat down so that the liquid simmers aggressively and cook until the liquid reduces by half, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a 20-inch square of cheesecloth and lay the carrots, celery and onion in a single layer in the center. Gather the corners together over the vegetables and tie the packet closed with a piece of twine. This makes it easy to remove the vegetables.
Transfer the roast back to the pot and top with the single-layer vegetable packet. Pour the reduced braising liquid over the top; it should just cover the roast and the vegetables (add more stock if needed). Slide the pot into the oven and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours. Check the roast every 30 minutes or so, pressing the vegetables down into the braising liquid. After 2 hours, put the lid on the Dutch oven and continue cooking another hour, for a total cooking time of 3 hours.
Pull the pot from the oven and remove and discard the cheesecloth bundle. Cut, remove and discard the twine. Put the roast back into the Dutch oven, put on the lid and keep warm until ready to serve.
Transfer the roast to a warm, shallow platter and tent with foil. Measure out 4 cups of the braising liquid and pour the remaining braising liquid into a separate bowl. Return the 4 cups braising liquid to the pot and bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the liquid reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter. Spoon the sauce over the roast, top and sprinkle with the chives.
Per serving: 597 calories (percent of calories from fat, 69), 37 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 44 grams fat (17 grams saturated), 141 milligrams cholesterol, 979 milligrams sodium.
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